You know those dreams you have where you don’t quite have your shit together? You’re late for an exam, and you can’t find the classroom. Or you arrive at an important dinner party in your honor and everyone is dressed to the nines, except for you; you’re in your ratty old p.j.s. Well, preachers are notorious for having such dreams on Saturday nights.
I’ve preached a sermon in my underwear. I’ve overslept and driven to church way too late on a Sunday morning only to find that the building has been moved to an undisclosed location. I’ve gone to stand behind the altar and suddenly discovered that it looks like the counter at McDonald’s and, when I hand people the bread for communion, they tell me they want to supersize the wine.
There is no dream quite as disconcerting as the one where I seem to be leading a different service than the one everyone else is attending; what’s written in my bulletin doesn’t in any way match what’s in theirs and they look at me like I’m crazy. It’s like I’m the only one there who doesn’t know what’s going on, and I’m the one who's supposed to be doing the leading.
Well, this morning when I stood before the good people of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, that most disconcerting dream became a reality.
It was a busy morning and a bazillion things were coming at me at once. There was a guest preacher I needed to greet and get situated. A man was there from the press who had a few questions he wanted to ask me. A few visitors were on hand who needed some special guidance. We had an acolyte about to embark on her maiden voyage. A young girl we hadn't seen in over a year wanted to talk with me about doing a service project for school credit. We were having microphone issues. The prelude was starting and I was ready to head for worship when I realized I didn’t have a bulletin. Oh, yes, I left it on my desk! So I rushed into my office, grabbed the bulletin, dashed down the hall, and opened the door to the chancel.
Now, I’ve been having this problem all during the Lenten season where I begin the service by asking people to stand for the confession as I usually do, but during Lent, because we end up kneeling, they should remain seated. This was the last Sunday in Lent when we would be beginning that way, so I was going to get it right this time, doggone it. And I remembered. I didn’t ask them to stand. I was so proud of myself.
Then, I read the words in the bulletin that introduce the confession, to which the congregation is supposed to respond, “Amen.” And they all just looked at me like I was speaking in Urdu. Nobody said a word. How odd? Perhaps they need a little prompting, I thought.
“Can I hear an 'Amen'?” I said. And I received a tepid “Amen” from the congregation.
A few people informed me that they had no idea what I was saying because those weren’t the words printed in their bulletins. Whut?!
This was it. This was my nightmare. But, I could have sworn I was awake. When I looked at my bulletin, I saw that it was for February 5, one of the Sundays during the season of Epiphany!
Yikes! A choir member quickly handed me a bulletin for the day. This couldn't be happening. I had to ask a person in the pew to pinch me to make sure I was actually awake.
So, we all had a good laugh and I took it from the top. “Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, The Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 25, 2012… take two!”
I read the proper introduction to the confession, and this time, the congregation responded with a resounding “AMEN!” that shook the rafters.
Yes, sometimes my worst nightmare can become a reality. It's highly possible. But when it does, I’m oh so grateful that God has sent me to pastor the congregation of my dreams!